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The Edge of the Cliff: How to (Safely) Take a Risk

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When I was growing up, my dad frequently took us on Saturday adventures in the desert. We lived on the outskirts of Phoenix, and he always had some kind of four-wheel drive vehicle, so his goal was to get us as “off-road” as possible without my mom passing out. She would pack lunch and my brother, sister and I would pile in the back of the truck or SUV, and we’d go hunting for creeks and ghost towns and old mines.

My dad was famous for taking roads that only he could see. He’d say, “Let’s go this way!” and my mom and us kids would peer through the windshield at the dirt and rocks and tumbleweeds and say, “We don’t really see a road.” Somehow, he managed to always bump his way to some cool and secret spot where we could explore and splash and hunt for treasures, and then find our way out again.

One weekend my mom was out of town and we went without her just to get out of the house (and perhaps for my dad to get out of hearing repeated laments of, “There’s nothing to do!”). The only thing I remember about the day was that at one point my dad couldn’t really see exactly where the road he’d chosen continued, so he made us all get out and walk to the front of the truck to help him figure it out. Only there wasn’t a road up ahead, just a cliff. Really close … like, right there in front of us! After promising we wouldn’t tell mom, we all piled back in the truck and dad carefully backed us out and turned us around. For some reason, this story surfaced in my mind the other day.

I started thinking about all the edges of cliffs we come to in our lives, and how some of them require us to back away … and others give us amazing opportunities to take a leap of faith.

Sometimes we don’t back away when we should; keg parties in high school and dates with bad boys in college come to mind. Sometimes we leap without fully understanding (although we think we do) what we’re in for; marriage and childbearing certainly top that list, don’t they? Some cliff ledges let us soar if we jump, like great (but sometimes scary) job opportunities and cross-country moves. Marriage and child rearing can fall in this category too, stretching us to become better people and influence others to be better people.

As I continued making lists, I realized there are probably some guidelines for cliff jumping to help us discern whether the leap off the edge will harm us or let us spread our wings and fly. By fly, I mean grow—intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Here are a few questions to consider when you’re making a big decision with an uncertain landing point:

1. Can this remotely hurt me physically, spiritually or emotionally? Can it damage my reputation or career in any way?

2. Could this remotely hurt other people?

3. If I jump, am I truly committed to the follow-through? Marriage, for example, is much more about commitment than compatibility and romance.

4. What are the possible downfalls or setbacks vs. the possible benefits? If the benefits happen, how can I maximize them? If there are setbacks, are they ones I can overcome?

5. Are there any emotions clouding my judgment or decision-making? Should I get professional help to examine them before making a decision?

6. Do I have support from the people in my life whose wisdom I trust?

It would be ideal if we could all make cliff-jumping decisions with brilliance and full knowledge about what’s ahead. But we can’t; there are too many variables in life to anticipate or predict every one in any given situation. The best we can do is to apply as much wisdom as possible to each decision, then move forward—or step back—with confidence in ourselves and those we rely upon. So let’s go ahead and live bravely on the cliff edges. It is there that we find real opportunities to grow, deep lessons about life, and true tests of our ability to take risks and recover from mistakes.


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Clare: obsessive watcher of shore birds who loves spending hours shopping online for things she’ll never buy

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